Books to Celebrate the Illinois Bicentennial

Map of Illinois from 1818
Map of Illinois, opens a new window by Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, opens a new window / CC BY 2.0, opens a new window / Cropped from original
1818 map of Illinois

Illinois became a state nearly 200 years ago, on December 3, 1818. The state's celebrating the Illinois Bicentennial all year long with events throughout Illinois. Here at CPL, we'll celebrate by recommending resources on our state's history and culture each month. To get us started, here are some suggestions for learning more about the history of Illinois.

For a good overview, Illinois: Crossroads of a Continent provides a look at the history of the state from Native Americans to the 1990s, touching on many topics. The book includes a smattering of black-and-white photos.

Regarding Illinois' early history, did you know the Cahokia mounds near present-day Collinsville are considered the largest and most important prehistoric archaeological structures north of Mexico? You can visit this state historic site, or you can read about it, and the Mississippian people who lived there, in Cahokia: Mirror of the Cosmos.

Shortly after Illinois became a state and was still the "Far West" of the country, Christiana Holmes Tillson and her husband moved from Massachusetts to Illinois. The journey was long and at times treacherous. Tillson shares her experience in A Woman's Story of Pioneer Illinois. Skim through the numerous mentions of people she met or knew to get to the more interesting bits. For example, there was already a fair amount of animosity and prejudice between Northerners and Southerners, as made clear by the interactions she had with the many Southerners who had settled in Illinois. Slavery in Illinois was legal under certain conditions (not to be outlawed until 1848, and even then it continued somewhat until the Civil War), and the Tillsons acquired two slaves, although she says she felt conflicted about it.

One thing Illinois is well-known for today is, unfortunately, its corruption. Corrupt Illinois covers crooked politicians from governors to aldermen to treasurers and beyond, and discusses the culture of bribery, nepotism and machine politics that still endures here. In Chicago, "Bathhouse" John Coughlin, "Hinky Dink" Kenna and Johnny "Da Pow" Powers were part of the Council of the Gray Wolves, which lasted from the 1890s to the 1930s. More recently, between 1973 and 2013, 33 Chicago aldermen and former aldermen have been convicted of federal crimes relating to their service.

To end with something a little more lighthearted, Weird Illinois takes a look at the strange and the spooky in our state. From the Murphysboro Mud Monster to the world's largest catsup bottle, Illinois has plenty of oddities and legends to offer.